Denver & Rio Grande Western


Ex-Rio Grande Tunnel Motor No. 5373

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Rio Grande owned a total of 73 SD40T-2 locomotives, nick-named "tunnel motors" for their unique radiator arrangement which drew intake air from deck-level grilles at the rear of the unit.  This was designed to more efficiently cool the engines when inside tunnels by drawing air from lower down.  Arguments occur over how effective the technique was, but what is not argued is the fact that these units were highly successful in a demanding role.

Tunnel Motor No. 5373 was part of an order received in August 1975 that included units 5367 through 5373.  These were the last order to come with the 81-inch "short" nose.  Other features included the ratchet-style hand brake on the nose (fireman's side).  As delivered, they had Mars lights mounted in the low nose, although many of these were replaced later in life by Pyle gyralights.  After the merger with Southern Pacific, many of these were removed.

No. 5373 may have lasted into the Union Pacific era without significant modifications.  My photo from November 1994 (below) shows it in as-delivered form.  Its current configuration shows low-mounted ditch lights, which was not SP practice.

UP retired the unit on August 29, 2001.  Subsequently it was acquired by Balfour Beatty, painted blue and renumbered 203.  It was then picked up by Iowa Pacific Holdings and sent to its San Luis & Rio Grande short line (along with two other Balfour Beatty alumni).  It arrived in Alamosa in September 2009.

I photographed the unit in Alamosa on December 28, 2009.  At the time it was parked near the fueling facilities in the downtown yard, which made it impossible to photograph the sunny side except from the front.  I find the photos interesting in several ways.  First, this is a great contemporary look at a unique and historic model of locomotive.  Then, it's a chance to add another page to its history, which goes back some 35 years now.  For aficionados of short line railroading, the unit is a beefy addition to a line that has heretofore only operated 4-axle power.  And for historians of the D&RGW, here we find an old Rio Grande unit still at work, although in different paint.


SD40T-2 No. 5373 (on the left) and No. 5376 are working as the swing helper on an eastbound PSC unit coal train at Tolland, CO. on Nov. 22, 1994.
Front view.  Here we can see where the lower light assembly has been removed and the opening plated over.  Note the ditch lights mounted to the pilot below the deckline.  Also note how chewed up the plow is, subsequent to the blue paint job.  This no doubt reflects the unit's service in track maintenance work.
Left front view, AKA "the Roster Shot". Yup, it's a pretty boring paint job...  Note that the horn is over the cab.  Since it is unlikely that anyone would have moved it back to that location from the long hood, we can assume that the modification was never made in the first place.  That plus the UP-style ditch lights leads me to concluded that the 5373 survived past the SP era (1996) fairly intact.
Left full-on view.  It's completely backlit, but I compensated the light just a tad.  Note the space between the front truck and the fuel tank.  Rio Grande used a 4,000-gallon fuel tank, which was slightly shorter than the common 4,400-gal tank used by some other railroads (SP, for example);  it's a distinctive D&RGW feature.
Cab.  This close-up allows you to see some interesting features, such as the positive traction control (PTC) cabinet on the walkway behind the cab, and the PTC sensor cables on the truck journals (missing from lead axle).  Also note the shock absorber, the handbrake lever and chain, and the frame-mounted bell.
Long hood.  This shows the distinctive feature of the tunnel motor, the deck-level air intake.  As you can see, there is nothing to obstruct the view through the body.  Mounted inside above the opening are two fans which pull air in through the grilles and push it upward through the radiator on the roof.  Note the two access doors above the grillle for the fan assemblies.  I wish I'd gotten a photo looking up through the grilles, but I was pushing the limits of tolerance by standing where I was!

?  James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.